It all began when an Arabian stallion and a Tyrolean mountain horse mare produced the first Haflinger stallion in a town called Hafling in the South Tyrol mountains of northern Italy in 1874. The stallion, Folie, would become the sire of an entirely new breed and all registered Haflingers can trace their bloodline back to him.
The Haflinger was bred to work as a pack and draft horse at high altitudes in the European Alps, specifically in northern Italy and Austria. Their strong, athletic build, surefootedness, and easy temperament made them an invaluable partner for the men and women working alongside them. And their distinctive colouring, ranging from light golden to deep chestnut with flaxen manes and tails, made them an attractive asset.
To preserve their original features and characteristics, Haflingers are one of the most strictly examined and highly selective breeds in the world. The first studbook was established in Tyrol, Austria, in 1920 and breeding has been consistently monitored since. As Haflingers spread around the world, new breeders have diligently continued the task of preserving the bloodline. In Australia, Haflinger breeding is incredibly strict if owners want their horses to be registered with the Australian Haflinger Breeding & Sports Association (AHBSA).
When a Haflinger matures at three to four years, they are ready for classification, a process that will determine if it meets the breed standard. A vet checks them over for any physical flaws, and then the horse is assessed through a 10-point criteria for conformation, soundness, size, movement, temperament, colour, and fertility. The Haflinger is then given a score using a letter and number system with 1A being the highest, and continuing down with 1B, 1C, 2A and so on. A purebred Haflinger will only be rejected if there are any obvious breed defects such as discolouring, which would indicate another breed is present in its genetics.
For stallions, classification is far more rigorous. They need to achieve a score of 1A to become a registered stallion. Currently, there are around a dozen registered stallions in Australia, making the breeding pool quite small in comparison to other breeds. However, more bloodlines are being added with each new imported mare or stallion, and international artificial insemination. Once classified and registered, only purebred Haflingers are eligible to be branded with the traditional Edelweiss flower brand — a nod from breeders around the world to the little horse’s Austrian birthplace.
Even the naming of a Haflinger follows a specific process. Fillies are named with the same first letter as the mare, and colts are named with the same first letter as the stallion. This system helps owners know what bloodline their horse belongs to.